Monday, November 5, 2007

How parasites shop

I like to think I’m pretty economical, that I can stretch a dollar. Todd and I live intentionally sparkle-free lives; we drive old cars, eat at home most of the time, he packs his lunch for work, I’m a regular Pennysaver and Craigslist participant, the kid and I seek out free fun at the library, take walks in the parks, etc. You get the idea. We try to live simply and inexpensively. Part of this is because we must, but truth be told, part of it is because we genuinely enjoy finding a bargain.

My favorite places to seek those bargains happen to be second-hand shops and sales. I have a local Goodwill that I frequent, we hit the church rummage sales sometimes, and there’s nothing better than a neighborhood garage sale on a warm Saturday morning. Sometimes I drag Marcus on these little forays; he’s quite familiar with the regular shopping spots. (He actually asked me today if I got my teeth at Goodwill—no kidding. Could I fabricate such an odd quote? You know it must be true.) I wouldn’t say that I pride myself on finding some of my favorite things in the midst of other people’s discarded goods, but I also wouldn’t say I’m ashamed of it. (Sometimes I think that the real shame belongs to people who spend ridiculous amounts of money on this stuff in the first place.) I do enjoy the thrill of the hunt, the unlikely Ralph Lauren skirt that’s in mint condition and cost me $3, or the Banana Republic sweater I found for $2… It brings me great satisfaction to step out in a name-brand outfit that didn’t even cost me a tenspot.

But pondering my second-hand hobby recently, I realized with some chagrin that I’m a parasite. All this time I’ve been thinking that I’m bucking the system, that I don’t need to live at the mercy of this season’s fashion, spend hundreds to update my wardrobe, invest thousands in furniture. The reality? I’m just as dependent on the whole goofy materialistic way of life as the initial purchasers of all these goods. If the person who first bought that $2 Ralph Lauren skirt had suddenly decided to save her money, where would I be? I couldn’t pick this stuff up cheaply if someone else hadn’t splurged on it in the first place.

So, I’m not really bucking the system. I’m just operating in a different system…but it’s not so very different, really. I spend less money, but I’m a cog in the greedy, fickle, buy-more/buy-new wheel just the same. I need those spendthrifts to help me maintain my lifestyle. My way of life requires that a consumer must consume; whether or not that consumer is me doesn’t really matter.

I'll be biting my tongue next time I'm tempted to ridicule someone's extravagance, because now I'll picture myself, a little leech, clinging to a bloated underbelly.


Athelas63 said...

Weeeelll - THIS is a cheery little entry! NOT. don't be so hard on yourself - you're not responsible for the environment you live in, just how well you live IN it.

Mel said...

Maybe I should learn to sew, in addition to working on my ability to sow. If I get enough distance from it, and give it a thorough look-see, I'm pretty disgusted by the entire American way of life. Alas, it's becoming the way of life for many in this world, except those people who have nothing and are wondering if they'll live to see tomorrow. The whole thing is just so messed up.

But I'll cheer up. I can control, to a point, how I live in it--you're right.

chris h. said...

Very thought-provoking. I see your point, but prefer to think of second-hand shopping as part of the reduce-reuse-recycle chain. What's the alternative? Buy something new and cheap because it's made in China or Latin America, or make your own (using fabric, thread, patterns, and tools made who knows where)? Maybe you feel bad because you were attracted by the designer name? No, you would have bought the sweater anyway... I applaud your living simply -- enjoy the simple pleasure (and utility) of a $2 sweater.

Mel said...

hey Chris H--I like your take on it as reduce/renew/recycle. that sounds much better than parasitic support of materialism. and if you read today's post (nov. 9) then you'll guess why I like name brands: a lot of times, they're just plain better quality. and I agree, I don't want to start frequenting super-cheap places for everything b/c we don't know where it comes from, who made, whether he/she was a child, etc. I was serious about learning to sew! that used to be how everyone did it. of course, then I'd have to worry where the cloth came from!!! ugh! ; )